Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Friday, March 24, 2017

Looking at marijuana reform in black and white

Though a number of folks in a number of ways have brought a critical race perspective to discussion of marijuana law, policy and reform, I still think this topic always merits even more extensive and thoughtful attention.  Thus, I am very pleased that a student in my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar is planned a presentation on racial issues surrounding marijuana reform.  And here are materials this student sent my way in preparation for the class presentation and discussion next week:

ACLU Report, "The War on Marijuana in Black and White: Billions of Dollars Wasted on Racially Biased Arrests"

Seattle Times article, "Minorities, punished most by war on drugs, underrepresented in legal pot"

Huffington Post commentary, "A Big Shift Is Necessary to Successfully Market Cannabis to Minorities"

 

March 24, 2017 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 16, 2017

New Congressional Research Service report on "The Marijuana Policy Gap and the Path Forward"

The folks at the Congressional Research Service do a terrific job summarizing complicated law and policy issues for members of Congress, and their latest marijuana publication is no exception. This latest CRS report is titled "The Marijuana Policy Gap and the Path Forward," and it covers an amazing amount of marijuana law and policy in under 50 pages. Here are excerpts from its summary:

Most states have deviated from an across-the-board prohibition of marijuana, and it is now more so the rule than the exception that states have laws and policies allowing for some cultivation, sale, distribution, and possession of marijuana — all of which are contrary to the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA).  As of March 2017, nearly 90% of the states, as well as Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, allow for the medical use of marijuana in some capacity.  Also, eight states and the District of Columbia now allow for some recreational use of marijuana.  These developments have spurred a number of questions regarding their potential implications for federal law enforcement activities and for the nation’s drug policies as a whole.

Thus far, the federal response to state actions to decriminalize or legalize marijuana largely has been to allow states to implement their own laws on marijuana.  The Department of Justice (DOJ) has nonetheless reaffirmed that marijuana growth, possession, and trafficking remain crimes under federal law irrespective of states’ positions on marijuana. Rather than targeting individuals for drug use and possession, federal law enforcement has generally focused its counterdrug efforts on criminal networks involved in the drug trade.

While the majority of the American public supports marijuana legalization, some have voiced apprehension over possible negative implications.  Opponents’ concerns include, but are not limited to, the potential impact of legalization on (1) marijuana use, particularly among youth; (2) road incidents involving marijuana-impaired drivers; (3) marijuana trafficking from states that have legalized it into neighboring states that have not; and (4) U.S. compliance with international treaties.  Proponents of legalization have been encouraged by potential outcomes that could result from marijuana legalization, including a new source of tax revenue for states and a decrease in marijuana-related arrests.  Many of these potential implications are yet to be fully measured.

Given the current marijuana policy gap between the federal government and many of the states, there are a number of issues that Congress may address.  These include, but are not limited to, issues surrounding availability of financial services for marijuana businesses, federal tax treatment, oversight of federal law enforcement, allowance of states to implement medical marijuana laws and involvement of federal health care workers, and consideration of marijuana as a Schedule I drug under the CSA. The marijuana policy gap has widened each year for some time.

March 16, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

"Tracking the Money That’s Legalizing Marijuana and Why it Matters"

The title of this post is the title of a notable new report issued by National Families in Action. The report can be downloaded at this link, and this press release about the report provides a summary of its themes and core contents:

A new report by National Families in Action (NFIA) uncovers and documents how three billionaires, who favor legal recreational marijuana, manipulated the ballot initiative process in 16 U.S. states for more than a decade, convincing voters to legalize medical marijuana.  NFIA is an Atlanta-based nonprofit organization, founded in 1977, that has been helping parents prevent children from using alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs.  NFIA researched and issued the paper to mark its 40th anniversary.

The NFIA study, Tracking the Money That’s Legalizing Marijuana and Why It Matters, exposes, for the first time, the money trail behind the marijuana legalization effort during a 13-year period.  The report lays bare the strategy to use medical marijuana as a runway to legalized recreational pot, describing how financier George Soros, insurance magnate Peter Lewis, and for-profit education baron John Sperling (and groups they and their families fund) systematically chipped away at resistance to marijuana while denying that full legalization was their goal.  The report documents state-by-state financial data, identifying the groups and the amount of money used either to fund or oppose ballot initiatives legalizing medical or recreational marijuana in 16 states.  The paper unearths how legalizers fleeced voters and outspent — sometimes by hundreds of times — the people who opposed marijuana.

Tracking the Money That’s Legalizing Marijuana and Why It Matters illustrates that legalizers lied about the health benefits of marijuana, preyed on the hopes of sick people, flouted scientific evidence and advice from the medical community and gutted consumer protections against unsafe, ineffective drugs.  And, it proves that once the billionaires achieved their goal of legalizing recreational marijuana (in Colorado and Washington in 2012), they virtually stopped financing medical pot ballot initiatives and switched to financing recreational pot.  In 2014 and 2016, they donated $44 million to legalize recreational pot in Alaska, Oregon, California, Arizona, Nevada, Massachusetts and Maine. Only Arizona defeated the onslaught (for recreational marijuana).

March 15, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Terrific summary of terrific Pacific McGeorge School of Law symposium on "Regulating Marijuana at Home and Abroad"

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As detailed on this webpage, the University of the Pacific Law Review and Global Center held a symposium last week on "Regulating Marijuana at Home and Abroad."  The panels and panelists for the event were are terrific and timely, and the video of the event is available via the website.  In addition, Professor Michael Vitiello was instrumental in arranging for two terrific students to provide a detailed multi-page summary of the symposium. This summary is much too long (and much too thoughtful) to really fit in this space, so I have linked it before and I recommend it to all. Here is how the terrific summary gets started to whet appetites from the whole product:

The University of the Pacific Law Review and Global Center Annual Symposium: Regulating Marijuana at Home and Abroad

Friday, March 3rd, 2017 – McGeorge School of Law, Sacramento, CA

Summary by: Kendall Fisher and Rosemary Deck

The University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law hosted the “Regulating Marijuana at Home and Abroad Symposium” on Friday, March 3rd in Sacramento. Several notable speakers gave remarks regarding the progressing trend toward legalization. While the individual states are developing piecemeal legalization under our federalist framework, the national legalization of marijuana remains in conflict with UN drug control treaties.

Michael Vitiello, Distinguished Professor of Law at McGeorge, delivered the opening remarks. He set the stage for discussions to follow by outlining a brief history of marijuana prohibition and decriminalization, focusing particularly on changing attitudes towards marijuana – he noted that today’s younger voters grew up with movies and television shows like Pineapple Express and Workaholics that present marijuana use as socially acceptable. Professor Vitiello predicts that this generation’s more lenient attitude towards marijuana will continue the trend towards national legalization, which has already begun with eight states permitting recreational use and twenty-eight allowing some form of medical use. In addition to demographic changes in attitude, he pointed to the capital that investors are now pouring into the industry as a reason to believe a national solution is in the offing. Professor Vitiello also pointed out that, despite comments from members of the Trump Administration, namely White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s recent insinuation that the federal government may crack down on state-legal recreational use, some of these legalized states have already expressed a willingness to push back against any such federal enforcement.

Download Regulating at Home and Abroad

March 9, 2017 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 3, 2017

What are the possibilities and foundations supporting a constutional argument for access to marijuana?

The question in the title of this post is the question being raised by a student presentation in in my Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform seminar next week. (It is also a question that has become ever more timely in light of recent suggestions by members of the Trump Administration that we may soon be seeing "greater enforcement" of federal marijuana prohibition.) The student addressing this issue has assembled the following background reading:

State Supreme Court decision recognizing a constitutional right to use marijuana in the home: Ravin v. State, 537 P.2d 494 (Alaska 1975) (westlaw; public site)

U.S. Supreme Court Cases recognizing a right to privacy and autonomy:

Griswold v. Connecticut (1965)

Stanley v. Georgia (1969)

Obergefell v. Hodges (2015)

Brief summary of unenumerated rights found in the 14th amendment through the concept of personal autonomy

NORML Amicus Brief involving right to use marijuana

March 3, 2017 in Assembled readings on specific topics, Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 27, 2017

AG Sessions comments negatively on state marijuana reform

As detailed in this new AP article, headlined "Sessions: More violence around marijuana than ‘one would think’," the US Attorney General had a few not-so-nice things to say about state marijuana reforms today. Here are the details:

The Justice Department will try to adopt “responsible policies” for enforcement of federal anti-marijuana laws, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Monday, adding that he believes violence surrounds sales and use of the drug in the U.S.

In a meeting with reporters, Sessions said the department was reviewing an Obama administration Justice Department memo that gave states flexibility in passing marijuana laws. “Experts are telling me there’s more violence around marijuana than one would think,” Sessions said....

Sessions stopped short of saying what he would do, but said he doesn’t think America will be a better place with “more people smoking pot.”

“I am definitely not a fan of expanded use of marijuana,” he said. “But states, they can pass the laws they choose. I would just say, it does remain a violation of federal law to distribute marijuana throughout any place in the United States, whether a state legalizes it or not.”...

Studies have found no correlation between legalization of marijuana and violent crime rates. But law enforcement officials in states such as Colorado say drug traffickers have taken advantage of lax marijuana laws to hide in plain sight, illegally growing and shipping the drug across state lines, where it can sell for much higher.

Pot advocates say the officials have exaggerated the problem. “You can’t sue somebody for a drug debt. The only way to get your money is through strong-arm tactics, and violence tends to follow that,” Sessions said.

Sessions said he met with Nebraska’s attorney general, who sued Colorado for allegedly not keeping marijuana within its borders. That lawsuit was dismissed by the U.S. Supreme Court, but neighboring states continue to gripe that Colorado and other pot-legal states have not done enough to keep the drug from crossing their borders.

February 27, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, February 25, 2017

"Recreational Cannabis — Minimizing the Health Risks from Legalization"

Nejmp1614783_f1The title of this post is the title of this notable new piece by RAND's Beau Kilmer appearing in the New England Journal of Medicine.  Here are excerpts from the start and end of a useful short commentary:

The cannabis-policy landscape is undergoing dramatic change. Although many jurisdictions have removed criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of cannabis and more than half of U.S. states allow physicians to recommend it to patients, legalizing the supply and possession of cannabis for nonmedical purposes is a very different public policy.  Since the November 2016 election, 20% of the U.S. population lives in states that have passed ballot initiatives to allow companies to sell cannabis for any reason and adults 21 or older to purchase it.  Although other states may move toward legalization, uncertainty abounds because of the federal prohibition on cannabis.  The Obama administration tolerated these state laws; it’s unclear what the Trump administration will do.

There is also tremendous uncertainty about the net effect of cannabis legalization on public health.  Most adults who occasionally use cannabis find it pleasurable and don’t experience substantial problems.  There is a growing body of research on the medical benefits of consuming cannabis flowers or extracts, and legalization should make it easier to study the therapeutic potential and allow access for patients who could benefit.

But cannabis use comes with important risks.  For example, cannabis intoxication impairs cognitive and psychomotor function, and there’s strong evidence that delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive chemical in cannabis, increases the risk of psychotic symptoms or panic attacks.  Approximately 9% of people who try cannabis meet criteria for cannabis dependence at some point.  The rate roughly doubles for those who initiate use before 17 years of age and is much higher for adolescents who use cannabis weekly or more often....

Jurisdictions considering legalizing cannabis for nonmedical purposes will have to make several decisions that could have profound consequences for public health.  For example, decision makers will have to determine how cannabis will be supplied (see diagram Continuum of Recreational Cannabis Supply Options.).  Allowing sales by for-profit companies is only one option.  Since daily and near-daily cannabis users account for the vast majority of cannabis expenditures, many businesses will target and attempt to expand the number of heavy users. Experiences with alcohol and tobacco suggest that profit-maximizing firms and their lobbyists will eventually fight to weaken regulations intended to protect health.

Even if states allow for-profit companies to produce cannabis, local governments could limit retail sales to nonprofit organizations or sell the drug through a government monopoly.  Jurisdictions less focused on generating tax revenue could simply permit home production and gifting (as Washington, D.C., does) or allow user cooperatives (an option offered in Uruguay).

Second, jurisdictions will have to decide how cannabis should be priced.  The post-legalization retail price of cannabis will not only influence revenues and the size of the illicit market, it will also affect consumption. Legalizing cannabis can dramatically reduce production and distribution costs for at least three reasons: suppliers no longer have to be compensated for the risk of seizure and arrest; it allows producers to take advantage of economies of scale; and it makes it easier to incorporate new technologies into the production process.  Jurisdictions seeking to ensure that cannabis retail prices don’t drop precipitously have many options.  For example, they could limit production, impose costly regulations on suppliers, require a minimum price, or levy an excise tax.

Third, jurisdictions will need to decide whether to update their prevention messaging — and whether prevention campaigns will start before legal cannabis is available.  They could target young people with such messages to counter commercial promotion where it’s allowed and encourage adults to talk to them about the effects of cannabis, especially on driving.  Prevention also includes efforts to limit access and exposure to cannabis products. Policymakers can learn important lessons about prevention from research on alcohol and tobacco.

Fourth, given the dearth of information about the consequences associated with high-potency cannabis products and our inability to measure cannabis impairment, risk-averse policymakers may consider initially limiting access to certain types of products or imposing a cap on products’ THC content.  Another option, offered by Stanford social psychologist Robert MacCoun and others, is to tax cannabis according to THC content, thereby giving jurisdictions a lever to nudge users toward lower-potency products.

Finally, since each supply option has trade-offs, some jurisdictions may want to start with a middle-ground option before embracing a for-profit model (see diagram).  One strategy is to implement a sunset clause allowing policymakers to decide after a predetermined period whether to maintain the status quo or switch approaches. Since no one knows the best way to tax or regulate cannabis, creating flexible rules would make it easier to make midcourse corrections and incorporate new research and other insights into policies.

Although public health outcomes are clearly important, they aren’t the only considerations when setting cannabis policy.  The costs of enforcing prohibition, racial and ethnic disparities in cannabis arrests, the size of the illicit market, impact on public budgets, and nonmedical benefits of using cannabis (e.g., pleasure, stress relief) are just a few of the other issues that warrant discussion.  In addition, we should be skeptical of people who claim to know what the net effect of cannabis legalization on public health will be.  Much will depend on implementation decisions, but jurisdictions’ ability to minimize health risks will also depend on how they respond to new information and other sources of uncertainty.

February 25, 2017 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 10, 2017

Colorado records another record high: state marijuana sales in 2016 hits $1.3 billion

This article from the Cannabist, headlined "Colorado sold $1.3 billion worth of marijuana in 2016," report on the latest notable sales numbers for the first state to have legalize recreational marijuana stores. Here are the details:

It’s a billion-dollar business — and then some. In 2016, Colorado’s dispensaries bagged $1.3 billion in recreational and medical cannabis sales, based on Colorado Department of Revenue tax data released Thursday.

To put the state’s third year of regulated recreational marijuana sales in perspective, Year One totaled $699.2 million (combined with medical sales) and Year Two jumped up to $996.2 million. The trend should continue in Year Four, but beyond that? It’s a murkier proposition.

“Colorado has had a really good run, being the first mover,” said Miles Light, an economist with the Marijuana Policy Group, which provides economic and market consulting services to legal cannabis markets. “Now, as other states legalize, some of these external benefits that are occurring are going to be eroded.”...

2016 was the year in which the $100-million-month became a baseline and heralded a record-breaking summer: The combined sales for July, August and September were $376.6 million. Monthly sales topped $100 million in eight of the 12 months. In December, which is typically a strong month for cannabis transactions, pot shops’ sales were a little more than $114.7 million, a 13 percent increase from the $101.3 million recorded in December 2015....

The Colorado Department of Revenue’s tax data don’t provide information about transactions, so it’s difficult to know the impact of price declines on the overall sales totals. The data do show that recreational marijuana accounted for an $875 million share of that haul while medical sales accounted for roughly $438 million.

They also show that Colorado brought in about $199 million in tax and fees revenue for the calendar year. Marijuana tax revenue is put toward areas such as school construction projects, public health and law enforcement.

It’s the visitor demand that drives a lot of this incremental growth in Colorado’s marijuana industry, Light said. That includes the tourist who buys an eighth for a ski trip here and that’s also the visitors who come into the state to purchase product to illegally supply to other markets, he said. The Denver Post reported in January that research commissioned by the Colorado Tourism Office found interest in legal weed waning among visitors. “2016 represented a return to the more usual Colorado traveler,” tourism director Cathy Ritter said.

February 10, 2017 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 6, 2017

"State Legalization of Marijuana and Our American System of Federalism: A Historio-Constitutional Primer"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper authored by Brian Blumenfeld now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

Federal law, pursuant to the Controlled Substances Act, maintains a strict criminal prohibition on marijuana use of any kind.  In states that have legalized marijuana, and in states proposing to do so, a fundamental conflict arises between federal powers and state sovereignty.  This conflict implicates some of the most vital aspects of the structural constitution: the Commerce Power, the Necessary and Proper Clause, the anti-commandeering doctrine, and Supremacy Clause preemption.

In recent years a healthy scholarship has emerged to wrestle with the subject, providing insightful commentary and argument, but missing in the literature is an unabbreviated account of the major features of federalism that frame the legalization controversy.  Also missing is a historical background situating the CSA's marijuana prohibition within the American political-legal tradition.

This article provides the reader with an extensive constitutional and historical foundation for understanding what is now recognized as "the most pressing and complex federalism issue of our time."

February 6, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Reading green tea leaves on Judge Gorsuch and marijuana law

A couple of marijuana reform supporters already have a couple of commentaries flagging some decisions of new SCOTUS nominee Neil Gorsuch concerning marijuana:

From Tom Angell here, "Trump's Supreme Court Pick On Marijuana"

From Heavy.com here, "Neil Gorsuch & Marijuana: What Are His Views on Legalization?"

I am not sure there is a whole lot here to get assess, but I surmise from other opinions dealing with other issues that Judge Gorsuch is a fan of federalism and limits on federal powers.  That philosophy should generally bode well for marijuana reformers at this moment in time, and  I do think it likely that some marijuana law and reform issues are likely to end up before the Supreme Court in the decades to come. 

January 31, 2017 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, January 23, 2017

Terrific UC Davis Law Review Symposium papers on "Disjointed Regulation: State Efforts to Legalize Marijuana"

Thursday, January 19, 2017

"Trump’s marijuana options"

The title of this post is the headline of this effective Hill commentary authored by Beau Kilmer, who is co-director of the RAND Drug Policy Research Center.  Here is the heart of the discussion:

The Obama administration has largely taken a hands-off approach, releasing a 2013 Department of Justice memo indicating that federal prosecutors and law enforcement agents should not use scarce resources to shut down state-legal operations in places that have “implemented strong and effective regulatory and enforcement systems.” To the Obama administration’s credit, the president did recently note marijuana legalization is “a debate that is now ripe” and the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse called for more research to determine which “policy structures — beyond simply prohibition or free market — are most likely to keep harms to a minimum.”

No one knows what the Trump administration will do about marijuana, and Sen. Jeff Sessions’ confirmation hearing for attorney general didn’t provide much insight. Will it follow Obama’s lead? Trudeau’s? Do something entirely different? The new administration will have at least six options.

Shut it down. The administration could crack down on marijuana businesses in states that have legalized for nonmedical purposes. It would be easy for DOJ to send out “cease and desist” letters to these companies and their landlords. However, there could be serious political costs with states arguing these federal actions would put people out of jobs, increase income for criminals and take tax dollars away from good causes.

Shape the markets. The DOJ could use its discretion to shape what the market looks like in the legalization states. Want to stop stores from selling and promoting high-potency products for nonmedical purposes? A letter could probably do the trick here, too. If not, seizing the products in a store or two could have a chilling effect.

Maintain the status quo. Doing nothing—and sticking with Obama’s approach—is always an option. This would likely lead more states to follow Colorado and Washington and grant licenses to marijuana companies incentivized to maximize profits instead of protecting public health.

Reclassify marijuana. The new administration could support rescheduling marijuana. Currently, marijuana is a Schedule I drug—the most restrictive category—because the Food and Drug Administration remains unconvinced that the whole plant material has an accepted medical use. Rescheduling would make it easier to research the health consequences—benefits and harms—and could have implications for marijuana businesses.

Address federal-state conflicts. The new administration could maintain federal prohibition while supporting legislation or other solutions to address problems caused by the federal-state conflict. For example, banks that accept money from state-legal marijuana businesses are committing federal offenses. The inability to bank like other entities creates challenges for thousands of companies. The administration could also support the creation of a policy waiver system that would make it easier and less risky for states to legally experiment with alternatives to the profit-maximization model, such as the state monopoly approach. (That said, the risk of federal interference hasn’t stopped tiny North Bonneville in southern Washington state from creating a government-owned and -operated store).

Legalize it. The administration could support legislation to legalize and regulate marijuana at the federal level. This would address the federal-state conflicts and allow the feds to impose a national tax or minimum price. It would also be a blatant violation of the international drug conventions that the United States has signed along with almost every other nation on earth (including Canada).

These six options are not all mutually exclusive and each comes with tradeoffs. Importantly, they are all compatible with a federal approach that encourages and supports discussions about marijuana prohibition and its alternatives. But if the feds don’t act, it is possible the United States could end up with a much looser and more commercial marijuana model than if the federal government legalized or created a waiver system.

January 19, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 13, 2017

"Marijuana reforms flood state legislatures"

The title of this post is the headline of this lengthy new article from The Hill.   Here are excerpts:

Legislators in more than a dozen states have introduced measures to loosen laws restricting access to or criminalizing marijuana, a rush of legislative activity that supporters hope reflects a newfound willingness by public officials to embrace a trend toward legalization.

The gamut covered by measures introduced in the early days of legislative sessions underscores the patchwork approach to marijuana by states across the country — and the possibility that the different ways states treat marijuana could come to a head at the federal Justice Department, where President-elect Donald Trump's nominee for attorney general is a staunch opponent of legal pot.

Some states are taking early steps toward decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana. In his State of the State address this week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said he will push legislation to remove criminal penalties for non-violent offenders caught with marijuana.  “The illegal sale of marijuana cannot and will not be tolerated in New York State, but data consistently show that recreational users of marijuana pose little to no threat to public safety,” Cuomo’s office wrote to legislators.  “The unnecessary arrest of these individuals can have devastating economic and social effects on their lives.”

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R) said during his campaign he would support decriminalizing marijuana.  Legislation has passed the Republican-led state House in recent years, though it died when Sununu’s predecessor, now-Sen. Maggie Hassan (D), said she did not support the move.

Several states are considering allowing marijuana for medical use. Twenty-eight states already have widespread medical marijuana schemes, and this year legislators in Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Utah have introduced bills to create their own versions. Republicans in control of state legislatures in most of those states are behind the push.

Legislators in Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, Delaware, New Mexico and New Jersey will consider recently introduced measures to legalize marijuana for recreational use.

There is little consensus on just how to approach legalization: Three different bills have been introduced in Connecticut’s legislature.  Two have been introduced in New Mexico, and three measures to allow medical pot have been filed in Missouri.

In 2016, voters in four states — Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada and California — joined Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Colorado in passing ballot measures legalizing pot for recreational purposes. Those efforts, marijuana reform advocates say, have lifted the stigma legislators might have felt. “Now that voters in a growing number of states have proven that this is a mainstream issue, many more lawmakers feel emboldened to champion marijuana reform, whereas historically this issue was often looked at as a marginalized or third-rail issue,” said Tom Angell, chairman of the pro-legalization group Marijuana Majority.

Just because measures get introduced does not mean they will advance. In many cases, Angell said, it is governors — Democrats and Republicans alike — who stand in the way. Though Democrats control the Connecticut legislature, Gov. Dan Malloy (D) has made clear he is no supporter of legalized pot. Vermont Gov. Phil Scott (R) has not said he would veto a legalization bill, though he is far less friendly to the idea than his predecessor, Democrat Peter Shumlin.

In New Mexico, Gov. Susana Martinez (R) has called decriminalizing marijuana a “horrible, horrible idea.” Democratic legislators are considering a plan to put legal marijuana to voters, by proposing an amendment to the state constitution. If New Jersey legislators advance a legalization law, they would run into an almost certain veto from Gov. Chris Christie (R).

While 14 state legislatures have legalized marijuana for medical use, no state legislature has passed a measure legalizing pot for recreational use. “Every year, we’ve seen legalizers throw everything at the wall to see what might stick,” said Kevin Sabet, who heads the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana. “I’m not surprised by any means. I don’t think there’s much appetite to legalize through the legislature.”...

In Washington, the incoming Trump administration has sent signals that encourage, and worry, both supporters and opponents of looser pot rules. The Obama Justice Department issued a memorandum to U.S. attorneys downplaying the importance of prosecuting crimes relating to marijuana in states where it is legal.

Trump’s nominee to head the next Justice Department, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), has been sharply critical of states that have legalized marijuana. In his confirmation hearings this week before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sessions said current guidelines, known as the Cole memo, are “truly valuable.”

Marijuana industry advocates seized on those comments in hopes of locking Sessions into maintaining the status quo. “The current federal policy, as outlined by the Cole memo, has respected carefully designed state regulatory programs while maintaining the Justice Department’s commitment to pursuing criminals and prosecuting bad actors,” said Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association.

January 13, 2017 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

AG-nominee Jeff Sessions deftly avoids saying too much about aggressively enforcing federal marijuana laws

170110105957-jeff-sessions-4-exlarge-169As expected, during today's confirmation hearing for the position of US Attorney General, Jeff Sessions was asked a few questions about whether and how he would enforce federal marijuana prohibitions.  These three press reports on the exchange provide slightly different spins on what Senators Sessions said and did not say:

From The Huffington Post here, "Jeff Sessions Offers No Straight Answers On How He’ll Handle Legal Marijuana"

From Reason here, "Sessions Offers Unclear, Useless Answers on Marijuana During Confirmation Hearing"

From the Washington Post here, "Sessions on enforcing federal marijuana laws: ‘It won’t be an easy decision’"

Though I suspect some marijuana reform activists were hoping to hear Sessions say he would fully respect and order DOJ officials to always defer to state marijuana reforms, such a statement would be in some ways tantamount to saying he would not fully respect federal marijuana prohibition (which is still the law of the land). Consequently, I was not surprised and in many ways encouraged by how Senator Sessions handled these issues. These passages from the HuffPo piece spotlight what I consider the biggest highlight, along with one marijuana advocate's takeaway:

“I won’t commit to never enforcing federal law,” said Sessions, responding to a question about whether he’d use federal resources to prosecute people using marijuana in accordance with their state laws. “But absolutely it’s a problem of resources for the federal government.”

Sessions went on to say that federal guidelines on marijuana enforcement crafted under Attorneys General Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch had been “truly valuable” in determining how to navigate inconsistencies between federal law ― under which marijuana is illegal ― and state laws that have loosened restrictions on the plant. Sessions also noted that if Congress wanted to clear up this confusion, it could pass a law adjusting the legal status of marijuana. Until then, however, he vowed to do his job “in a just and fair way” while judging how to approach marijuana going forward.

“It is not so much the attorney general’s job to decide what laws to enforce,” Sessions said. “We should do our job and enforce laws effectively as we are able.”

Marijuana advocates met Sessions’ stance with guarded optimism, though they cautioned that he had not ruled out the possibility of more aggressive action against legal marijuana states and users. “It’s a good sign that Sen. Sessions seemed open to keeping the Obama guidelines, if maybe with a little stricter enforcement of their restrictions,” said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority, a drug policy reform group. “The truth is, his answer was skillfully evasive, and I hope other senators continue to press for more clarity on how he would approach the growing numbers of states enacting new marijuana laws.”

January 10, 2017 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Legal marijuana sales in 2016 in North America over $6.5 billion after another year of remakable growth

As reported in this new Forbes article, "North American marijuana sales grew by an unprecedented 30% in 2016 to $6.7 billion as the legal market expands in the U.S. and Canada, according to a new report by Arcview Market Research." Here is more reporting on a new report on the legal marijuana marketplace:

North American sales are projected to top $20.2 billion by 2021 assuming a compound annual growth rate of 25%. The report includes Canada for the first time as it moves towards implementing legal adult use marijuana.

To put this in perspective, this industry growth is larger and faster than even the dot-com era. During that time, GDP grew at a blistering pace of 22%. Thirty percent is an astounding number especially when you consider that the industry is in early stages. Arcview's new editor-in-chief Tom Adams said, "The only consumer industry categories I've seen reach $5 billion in annual spending and then post anything like 25% compound annual growth in the next five years are cable television (19%) in the 1990's and the broadband internet (29%) in the 2000's."

ArcView's analysis uses data provided by BDS Analytics that has access to millions of individual consumer transactions from dispensary partners. “One of the biggest stories was the alternative forms of ingestion,” said ArcView Chief Executive Officer Troy Dayton. “Concentrates and edibles are becoming customer favorites versus traditional smoking.”

Even though the market is putting up huge sales numbers, there is still a great deal of uncertainty that comes with the new administration's approach towards legalization. Dayton believes that President-elect Donald Trump has been consistently in favor of states rights when it comes to legalization. “It's one of the few things he has been consistent on,” he said. Dayton also believes that even if Trump backed away from adult use, he would still favor medical marijuana.

The proposed attorney general Jeff Sessions is a confirmed critic of legalization, but Dayton believes that marijuana will be a low priority for the new administration. In any event, the group is reviewing and preparing for a more aggressive stance toward marijuana from the federal government should that happen. Even with this cloud of uncertainty, Dayton is bullish for the market. He said investment dollars are pouring into California, Florida, Massachusetts and Nevada. “Twenty-one percent of the total U.S. population now live in legal adult use markets,” said Dayton. He also noted that Colorado, Washington and Oregon saw their sales jump 62% through September of 2016 over 2015.

Investors are predominantly interested in investing in new technology within the industry like testing technologies and new growing technologies. Retail also remains attractive as new brands vie to win market share. Dayton also said there is a great deal of interest in Canada. That country's market is smaller than the U.S., but without the overhang of government conflict, it is a good indicator for which businesses could be replicated and thrive in the U.S.

January 3, 2017 in Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 29, 2016

"The global experiment of marijuana legalization"

505394261The title of this post is the headline of this notable lengthy new CNN piece.  Here are excerpts:

In 2016, more countries legalized the use of marijuana for medicinal or recreational purposes. Marijuana, or cannabis, is "the most widely cultivated, produced, trafficked and consumed drug worldwide," according to the World Drug Report, but its legality has long been a topic of debate worldwide.

In the US, Maine recently confirmed legalized recreational marijuana use, joining seven other states and the District of Columbia. Medical marijuana is now legal in more than half of US states. This mirrors a global trend. Canada approved both legalization and regulation of the drug in 2016, joining Uruguay as the only other country to do so. Ireland, Australia, Jamaica and Germany approved measures for its medicinal use this year. Decisions are still pending in South Africa. Australia granted permission for businesses to apply for licenses to manufacture or cultivate marijuana products for medicinal purposes and to conduct related research.

They join more than 20 countries worldwide trialing legislation regarding access to marijuana and exploring possible benefits. But as with the drug itself, the laws vary, as does the potency of control, and the world is waiting to learn what will work best....

Portugal is a pioneer when it comes to drug reform laws, as the nation decriminalized the possession of all drugs -- not just cannabis -- for personal use in 2001. As a result, the country holds the greatest body of evidence about the impact such a change can have on policy.

"We were a social laboratory," said João Castel-Branco Goulão, director-general of the General-Directorate for Intervention on Addictive Behaviours and Dependencies in Lisbon.  But filtering out the specific impact in terms of cannabis is difficult. "Experiments are now taking place in other parts of the world," he said. 

Having trialed drug reform for more than a decade, Goulão believes that when it comes to defining what's needed for cannabis, there must be a clear distinction between discussions for medicinal and recreational use to "avoid confusion." "People mix medicinal and recreational use," he said.  However, he acknowledges that the basis for medicinal benefits from marijuana is strong, with a range of experts, including himself, recognizing its use to alleviate chronic pain, muscle spasms, anxiety, and nausea and vomiting -- most of which are linked to a variety of disorders, including multiple sclerosis and cancer treatment. "I have no problems with medicinal marijuana," Goulão said. "There are conditions I believe can benefit from cannabis use."

Multiple countries have decriminalized personal possession of marijuana, including the Netherlands, Mexico, Czech Republic, Costa Rica and Portugal, in an attempt to address societal problems associated with its use.... 

Evidence also shows that removing penalties for drug use hasn't led to an increase in drug use in Portugal, as many voices in the opposition would argue. Instead, it reinforces the fact that criminal drug laws do little to deter people from using them, according to a report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.  Despite these benefits, Goulão believes that leaping straight into full legalization, rather than decriminalization, is not a wise move.  "They are jumping a step," he said, referring to countries such as Uruguay, Canada and some US states.  They should instead "decriminalize and watch carefully," he said.

December 29, 2016 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, International Marijuana Laws and Policies | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Masschusetts legislature moves quickly in order to move slower on allowing retail marijuana sales

As reported in this local article, "Massachusetts lawmakers quietly shuttled a bill to Gov. Charlie Baker's desk delaying the implementation of recreational marijuana by six months." Here is more:

The bill does not affect the provisions that are already in effect: Personal possession inside and outside a person's primary residence, as well as home growing. Those provisions went into effect on Dec. 15, 2016. Under the new law voters passed in November, retail pot shops were likely to open in 2018, after the set-up of a Cannabis Control Commission.

But the bill on its way to Baker's desk changes the deadlines for the commission to draft and approve regulations, vet applicants and issue retail licenses for selling and cultivation. The commission was originally due to be set up by March 2017. The Massachusetts House and Senate passed the bill on Wednesday. Marijuana legalization advocates have repeatedly called for the timelines and deadlines to stay the same, saying they are doable.

"The legislature has a responsibility to implement the will of the voters while also protecting public health and public safety. This short delay will allow the necessary time for the Legislature to work with stakeholders on improving the new law," Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst, said in a statement. "Luckily, we are in a position where we can learn from the experiences of other states to implement the most responsible recreational marijuana law in the country," he added, referring to states like Colorado, Oregon and Washington.

December 28, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Lots of notable headlines from lots of notable 2016 marijuana reform states

As regular readers know, 2016 was a banner year for marijuana reform.  Specifically, in addition to eight states in which voters enacted significant recreational or medical marijuana reforms by ballot initiatives, two important "rust-belt, swing-states," Ohio and Pennsylvania, enacted medical marijuana reforms via the traditional legislative process.  Here is a round-up of some recent notable news from a number of these states:

From Alaska here, "Downtown Anchorage retail marijuana store opens up shop"

From California here, "Legalization is opening doors for new marijuana entrepreneurs. Are we about to see a pot gold rush?"

From Florida here, "Medical marijuana questions linger after Amendment 2"

From Maine here, "Recount bid ends, clearing way for legal marijuana in Maine"

From Montana here, "Hundreds of patients apply for medical marijuana after court ruling"

From Nevada here, "How will legalized recreational marijuana affect the gaming industry?"

From Ohio here, "Survey finds Ohio physicians not yet sold on medical marijuana"

From Pennsylvania here, "Pa. senator says he used medical marijuana despite ban"

December 18, 2016 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Shouldn't Colorado be spending EVEN MORE money researching impact of marijuana reform?

Colorado_Funds_Marijuana_ResearchThe question in the title of this post is my reaction to this recent Denver Post article headlined "Colorado researchers receive $2.35M to study marijuana use on driving, other impacts of legalization." Here are details:

In a groundbreaking effort to better understand what, exactly, happened after voters legalized recreational marijuana in Colorado, the state’s Health Department on Tuesday announced $2.35 million in grants to researchers who will help answer that question.

Most of the money — $1.68 million — will go toward two studies that look at the impacts of marijuana use on driving. The first will compare driving impairment for heavy marijuana consumers versus occasional consumers. The other will study dabbing — the smoking of highly potent marijuana extracts — to determine its effects on driving and cognitive functioning.

Other studies receiving grant funding will look at how long marijuana stays in the breast milk of nursing mothers, the adverse effects of edible cannabis products, the cardiovascular risks of marijuana use in people with heart problems, the impact of marijuana use on older adults and, lastly, an “analysis of data from before and after implementation of recreational marijuana in Colorado,” by a psychology professor specializing in addiction counseling at Colorado State University.

“This research will be invaluable in Colorado and across the country,” Dr. Larry Wolk, the executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said in a statement. “The findings will inform our public education efforts and give people additional information they need to make decisions about marijuana use.”

The Health Department previously spent $9 million as part of a historic effort to fund the study of medical marijuana by a state government.  Those research projects are still ongoing.  Earlier this year, the state legislature approved funding for the new grants to study recreational marijuana.  The Health Department received 58 preliminary applications, which were winnowed to a pool of 16 from which the final seven recipients were selected.

I am pleased to see that Colorado continues to invest substantial amounts into medical and recreational marijuana research, and the roughly $11.5 million spent to date is nothing to scoff at. Nevertheless, this article reports that Colorado "collected more than $135 million in marijuana taxes and fees in 2015," and increased sales data in 2016 would suggest that the state is on pace to collect at least another $165 million or more this year. Consequently, the tax monies raised in Colorado from marijuana reform in Colorado being "reinvested" in needed research is only about 4%.

Though my biases as a researcher is showing through, I think reinvesting only 4% of tax revenues into needed research is woefully inadequate given all the important and unanswered questions raised by marijuana reforms in Colorado. Though picking out numbers here, I think at this still-very-early stage of state-level marijuana reforms that states ought to be seriously considering putting 10% or more of revenues raised back into public health and public policy research on the impact of state-level reforms.

December 17, 2016 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Another notable NBA star makes the case for marijuana reform for elite professional athletes

This new USA Today piece, headlined "Chauncey Billups says marijuana can help players," reports on a number of notable persons connected to the National Basketball Association making a number of notable comments about marijuana use by NBA players. Here are the details:

Chauncey Billups, Tracy McGrady, Jalen Rose and Michelle Beadle discussed the NBA's marijuana policy on NBA Countdown this week. The three former players basically said the same thing: The NBA should change its policy, especially taking into account the fact that marijuana could be a safer alternative to alcohol and addictive painkillers.

Billups, who played on the Celtics, Raptors, Nuggets, Timberwolves, Clippers, Knicks and Pistons over the course of a 17-year career, also said he actually liked when certain former teammates smoked marijuana before games because it helped calm them down.  He said: "When you're talking about protecting your investment, protecting these players, protecting the guys, if medicinal marijuana, if that's something that can help out with your franchise, with your organization, with your players, that's a discussion that needs to happen.

"I honestly played with players, I'm not gonna name names, but I wanted them to actually smoke. They played better like that. Big-time anxiety, a lot of things that can be affected, it brought them down a little bit, helped them out, helped them focus in a little bit on the game plan, that I needed them to do that. I would rather have them do that sometimes than drink."

Some prior related posts on sports leagues and marijuana reform:

December 11, 2016 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Sports, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)